Easing Homework Stress

September 29th, 2014

My fourth grader doesn’t understand why letters suddenly represent "unknown quantities" on her math worksheets, she doesn't remember the difference between median, mode, range and mean, and when she feels stuck during homework, she freezes. She's a despondent deer in headlights, or a captured bank robber in the glow of a policeman's flashlight. Pick your own dorky metaphor. When I can my child to speak, she admits that she feels like she will "never be smart" like the other kids in class.

To make matters worse, if she turns in incomplete work, my daughter will be penalized by losing 50 of her classroom "dollars" and will not be able to shop in the "Friday Store." This may sound silly to an adult mind, but to a nine year old, this is all a very big deal. One of these scenarios occurred 15 minutes before school was starting. So, naturally, I finished her homework, doing my best to replicate her handwriting.

I'm certain my "solution" is nowhere on the countless lists of "tips to help your kids with homework."

I've read them all.

If you're like me (I also don’t remember the difference between median and mode. And I JUST looked it up before finishing my nine-year-old's homework. Don’t be like me) consulting any type of parenting website or magazine can turn out being less-than helpful. In the stock images that accompany "simple tips," for homework help, children and parents are smilingly working together in clean, organized spaces. No one is in the fetal position, crying or pulling at their hair because they don't know why "Common Core" has come up with all new math vocabulary. (And that's just the parents…)

Truly, does the following homework help suggestion from "wiki-how" strike you as a tad condescending?

"Pump Yourself Up: Sometimes it's hard to settle down and do homework because you've been sitting in class all day and need to burn off some excess energy. Do some jumping jacks or sit-ups, run a mile, or just dance around like crazy in your room. It'll get the adrenaline going, and you'll feel like homework is just a little hurdle to jump over."

Sounds fun, unless, like my daughter your child gets frustrated beyond the point of being open to work or movement; much less crazy dancing.

So how can parents help?

First, know your kid. Be in open communication with the teacher about the workload and whether or not your children seem to be working at a comfortable pace. Here are a few other tips I paraphrased from both the wiki-how page.

  1. Set fixed hours. There should be a set schedule for homework, and make the special study area free from clutter and distractions. It might be a good idea to set up a bulletin board (or at least a white board.)
  2. Make a List, Check It Twice: Create a priority list that starts with what's due soonest as number one. Rate assignments based on how long you think they'll take, which ones seem like the hardest, or by subject. Being organized is a foreign concept to grade schoolers, and they will be thankful the earlier they learn to do it.
  3. Take a Break: Encourage 15-minute breaks for breathing outside, eating a snack, calling a friend or listening to music loud on headphones.
  4. Get It Over With: Encourage your child to complete a project as soon as possible, (if time allows) and to imagine how it's going to feel when it’s complete. You're free! You can play basketball! You can ride your bike!
  5. Multiply with Music: Studies have shown that the part of the brain that is used to solve mathematical problems is stimulated by classical music. So crank up the Mozart when you're multiplying fractions!
  6. Reward Yourself: Encourage kids to make deals/create small rewards with themselves. i.e. "If I finish this paper a day early, I'll buy that new DVD I've wanted," or "When I finish 20 math problems, I get to watch the game on TV tonight."

Getting out of the house and being physical might be just the release they need. An hour of indoor tennis, basketball and volleyball may be the perfect antidote to schoolwork overwhelm. Let them group play, camaraderie and success.

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